May 7, 2008
Dear Students and Colleagues,
Over the past several weeks we have been engaged in a comprehensive review of your thoughts, opinions and advice concerning the future of Cole Hall. Today I write to report back on our findings and to share with you how we are proceeding.
For nearly two months, we have sought your opinions and ideas through a variety of mechanisms: a confidential email box, open forums, small-group meetings, an online survey and many one-on-one conversations with students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and families of those most affected by the events of February 14. Two major themes emerged from this study, and those themes were consistent across all groups: First, you said you did not want to see Cole Hall demolished. Many of you invoked the memories of those whom we lost, and asked that any renovation include a link to whatever permanent memorial is established nearby. Second, a substantial number of you said you did not want to teach, work or attend classes in the auditorium where the shooting took place, and that efforts to make the building look different – both inside and out – would be much appreciated.
With those two themes firmly established, we probed further with an online survey that presented three possible options. More than 5,000 of you responded to that survey, with the majority favoring option #2, in which Cole Hall room 101 would be converted into non-classroom space. Option #2 also calls for Cole Hall room 100 to be updated in function and appearance, and for other interior areas to likewise be given a different look and feel. Finally, the preferred option includes plans to change the building façade to update and substantially change the exterior appearance of the building.
Taking one 500-seat auditorium out of service requires us to replace that classroom space elsewhere on campus. More than 12,000 students had classes in Cole Hall this academic year, so the need to replace lost instructional space is very real. Option #2 includes plans to construct a new 400-seat auditorium in the center campus area, either connected to an existing building or as a freestanding structure. Preliminary cost estimates for both the remodeling and renovation of Cole Hall and the construction of a new 7,800-square-foot auditorium/lecture hall to replace Cole Hall room 101 total about $7.7 million – substantially less than what we were anticipating with the complete demolition of Cole Hall and construction of a new classroom facility.
The task before us now involves garnering support from state officials for an emergency appropriation to fund this much-needed recovery effort. From the earliest days following our tragedy, Governor Blagojevich and other top officials responded to our requests for help with immediate expressions of support, and we are grateful for their unwavering advocacy in this difficult time. While support for NIU remains strong in Springfield and across the State, our elected representatives are dealing with many competing priorities and a fragile state budget. That our request represents a strong consensus opinion from our campus community will be an important factor in legislative deliberations. My thanks to all of our shared governance leaders for facilitating dialogue, and to all who participated in open forums and online surveys or who sent emails and letters for our consideration. Your voices have been heard, and I pledge to represent those wishes in the weeks and months ahead as we strive to make NIU’s critical classroom space needs a top priority across our State.
As we come to the end of a difficult semester, I wish all of you the very best. Let us continue to draw strength from each other, and to show the world our proud and resilient Huskie spirit.
Forward, together forward,
John G. Peters